“When did you start smoking?” Zoe asked as an extra cheesy portion of the ziti fell from her fork onto the table.
“Never.” Melanie grinned, tossing the tray back and forth between her hands. “Figured it was the only way I could get a break like Darlene and Kelsey. Fair’s fair, you know.”
Her best friend laughed. “Just don’t get fired, okay?”
Melanie drew a little x over the pocket on her white shirt and walked away. “Promise,” she said over her shoulder. And she meant it. She couldn’t afford to lose another job. Two out of the three things she wanted most in life cost money that she didn’t have. It was part of the reason why she asked Carter for a job. She knew his personal assistant position paid well, even if it was temporary.
Only one problem with that: Melanie didn’t want temporary with Carter.
She wanted forever.
Melanie tossed her keys onto the counter and sat down at the small kitchen table.
Her dad’s snores drifted in from the living room, along with the evening news. Louis had passed out in the recliner, a couple of beer cans on the table beside him.
“Only two tonight? Must’ve been a good day,” she said, taking off her shoes and messaging her aching feet. Then she stood and shuffled to the recliner, grabbing the remote and clicking off the television.
Ever since her momma had died from breast cancer, Melanie had been raised by her dad. Although some might argue she was using that term loosely. Louis had let her run hog-wild and fancy free, until a well-meaning (nosy as heck) woman had taken an eight year old Melanie under her wing one summer during Vacation Bible School.
It hadn’t helped, but Melanie did get a best friend out of it: Zoe Ambrose.
Louis muttered something in his sleep and Melanie smiled. She snagged an orange and brown afghan from the sofa and covered him with it, brushing back his grey hair. “Sleep tight.”
Melanie froze, her heart pounding in her chest. There was only one Raylene in Holland Springs and she was married. Worse, she was married to Carter and Zoe’s uncle, who just so happen to be their momma’s favorite brother. “No, it’s Melanie.” She knew her daddy had been doing some odd jobs around Raylene and John’s house. And she pleaded with God that Raylene wasn’t one of those jobs.
Louis shifted in the recliner, his brown eyes blinking open. “Hey, sugar. How was work?”
“Fine.” She stared at her father for a moment, then said, “Are you messing around with Raylene Alfred?”
“Don’t see how that’s any of your business, young lady,” he said and her heart plummeted to her toes. Any time he called her young lady, he was lying to her or trying to justify himself. “My private life is private.”
“Not around here it’s isn’t.” She fisted her hands on her hips. “Everyone knows how you like messing around with married women. Love ‘em and leave their marriages in shambles.”
“It’s different this time.”
“You say that every time!” She held up her hands. “I don’t care if you think you’re in—”
“We are in love. Besides, John doesn’t treat her right and she’s miserable,” Louis countered, sitting up in the recliner and pushing the bottom half down.
“If she’s not happy with John, then she needs to leave him before y’all make a go of it. I’m getting tired of having to defend you and your affairs.” She really was, but she wouldn’t stop sticking up for her dad. Louis was the only family she had and she loved him.
“Who’s saying she’s not leaving him?” Louis said as he stood. “Who’s to say that Raylene and I don’t have plans?”
Her mouth fell open. “Are you kidding me?”
She shook her head, moving toward her room. “I don’t want to know about your plans. But for once in your life, can you think about the consequences?”
How many times had they been through this before? Louis Smith fell in and out of love like a thirteen year old girl. He always had plans, always knew that his latest was The One, and he was The One to save her from her loveless marriage.
Yet another reason why she needed to get her own place. Not knowing for a fact what her daddy was up to would take a lot of stress off of her.
Shutting the door behind her, she dug into the front pockets of her apron and started straightening and laying out her tips on her dresser. Sixty bucks wasn’t too bad for a slow Monday night.
Biting the side of her lip, she considered the two jars in front of her. One labeled Trip Money and the other, House Money. One day she would have a home that didn’t have wheels, that she couldn’t be evicted from and a bed that was actually hers.
Most people thought she was flighty, unable to hold down a job or even finish college. But she had a plan and had been pre-approved for a loan. And it was all documented on her ancient computer. Still, she couldn’t in good conscience buy that tiny cottage on three acres without some savings in the bank or a five thousand dollar down payment.
Plus, she wanted to travel, to see the world outside of Holland Springs. Her life so far had consisted of a hundred-mile radius. Pretty boring and pathetic.
So, the sensible thing to do would be to split the tips eighty-twenty in favor of the House Money Jar. But sometimes a girl needed a little excitement.
Smiling, she opened the Trip Money jar and put all but ten dollars in it.
Just as she put both lids back on, there was a knock at her door. “Sugar, can you spot me some money for the rent? I promise to settle up with you on Friday.”
“I gave you my half last week,” she said, opening her door. “Right before you went down to Biloxi with...”
Her dad looked away, his hand running through his hair.
She sagged against the door frame and placed her palm across her forehead. “You couldn’t stay away, could you?”
“I thought I could make things easier on us.”
“By gambling away our rent money?” Tears pricked at the back of her throat as she walked to her dresser and opened up her House Money Jar. “How much?”
“Nine hundred,” he mumbled. “Rent’s twelve.”
“What!” The lid slipped from her grasp, falling to the floor. It landed on the carpet with a thud. Digging through the jar, she pulled out her money and counted out the amount he needed. Her heart pinched at the sight of a month’s worth of tips from her House Jar. Who knew if she’d ever get it back? Louis wasn’t exactly a stickler for keeping his word. And settling up on Friday could mean this Friday or twenty Fridays from now.